What I learned today is that we so easily throw truth to the ground.
Oh, we don't go in our churches and toss the Bibles on the floor. Most evangelicals today don't question the inspiration of Scripture. But in our own way, day after day we fling truth to the ground. We see the results of this in our society and in our churches ... and in our own lives.
It's probably easiest to see the impact in our society. When we as a society call good evil and evil good, when people are encouraged to indulge in sin and promised no consequences, when a major children's filmmaker finds voodoo and images of the demonic an appropriate scene for six year olds -- we see what happens when lies are believed. When a society becomes enmeshed in a web of lies, the resulting fruit can be nothing but dark.
I think it's harder to see the impact of throwing truth to the ground in our churches. Maybe that's because we don't want to see it. Maybe it's because we're self-righteous. Maybe we've been too influenced by the culture. Or maybe we've just spent too much time learning how to study our Bible, and not given enough time to actually living out the truths written on its pages. I'll never forget a sermon I heard on James 1:22 ("be a doer of the word, and not a hearer only"). The speaker expressed God's reaction to all our Bible study like this in the form of a parable that went something like this:
A man went away on a long journey. He told his servants that they would be okay because they would have letters from him to help them know what to do. Be ready for my return, he said, and do what the letters tell you.That's how we can be in the church sometimes. If we don't outright deny God's word - increasingly a temptation in a postmodern society - we turn it into something to discuss and dissect and define. We find it easier to parse a Greek verb than to obey a hard command. And little by little, as a church we fling truth to the ground.
Years later he returned from the journey. He looked around at field with fruit fallen to the ground and rotted, at vineyards unkempt and lamps unlit. He gathered the servants together. They were ecstatic to have him back, and quickly came to his side.
"What's going on here?" he asked. "Why haven't you taken care of things? Didn't you read my letters?"
"Oh, yes, we read them" the servants answered. "In fact, we read them all the time. We get together and read them aloud. We have special dictionaries to help us understand what all your words mean. In fact, some of us even get together to talk about your letters one line at a time. Many of us have memorized large sections of the letters. We love your letters."
The man was at a loss. "But why didn't you ever do anything they said?"
Possibly the hardest to identify are those times when we individually fling truth to the ground. We do it so smoothly, rationalizing away the hard verses one at a time. We'd never say we don't believe God. But there's that verse that is just a little too hard to apply in our modern context (or so we think). So we turn away rather than face the limits of our own humanity. In the process, we miss a chance for deeper intimacy with Jesus as He helps us in our weaknesses.
The temptations and details are unique to each of us. "Do all things without grumbling or complaining" is a challenge for me at times - such as this week when I've spent hours on phone and email and chats with technical support at major companies. It's easy for me to think "all things" means less than "all things". I can face my weakness - or I can turn away and focus on something easier to achieve or worse, on the ways "the world" flings truth to the ground. The reality is, the upholding of truth in society will never be stronger than it is in the church. And the upholding of truth in the church will never be stronger than it is in the people who make up the church. One by one, day by day, our approach to truth defines our world.
So, how can we keep from flinging truth to the ground? How can we be sure we are embracing truth and not becoming legalistic about culturally-related passages such as "greet one another with a holy kiss"? Well, entire books have been written on the subject, so all I can really do here is share my own personal approach. I'd be interested in hearing your insights. Because I want to always lift truth up, not fling it to the ground.
How to embrace truth
- First and foremost, be in the Word - all of it. Don't pick and choose favorite topics. If you have never read through the Bible, start. It doesn't have to be in a year or in a certain order. I read one chapter a day - takes 3 1/2 years. But it's amazing how much I see that I never grasped when I focused on favorite sections.
- Second, rely on the Holy Spirit. He is the One who leads us into all truth. Bible reading and prayer should go hand in hand. Pray before, during, and after your reading. Turn the passages into prayers. If there is a command, ask God to show you how to obey it.
- Third, be willing to obey. Always be willing to follow through a command in Scripture to its fullest extent. One of the principles of the New Testament is that while we are not under the law, our Spirit-obedience is always more, not less, than legalistic obedience which tries to do "just enough to get by". We should want to obey God because we have new hearts. Practically speaking, this principle means approaching each passage as if it means just what it says. Now don't get me wrong - we will discuss cultural context in a minute. But our "default" should be, "OK, how can I obey this passage?"
- Fourth, seek to understand the historical and literary context of your reading. There are several great books about principles of interpretation, but some of the key ones I use include: Let Scripture interpret scripture. Look up other books by the same author or other verses with the same subject. Get a full-orbed view of the topic, not an isolated passage. Never build a doctrine on an obscure passage. There is a lot in Scripture that is clear; God will shed light over time on what is unclear. A great Bible dictionary or encyclopedia, or a commentary written by someone with a high view of Scripture (as opposed to someone who doubts its inspiration) can often shed light on cultural elements that might impact an interpretation. One example would be Paul's instruction about women covering their heads. A comparison of all Paul's writings, will show this is an isolated command. Why? A good commentary will tell you that in Corinth, the prostitutes went uncovered and other women covered their heads. Paul was teaching them to avoid even the appearance of evil and approach their worship with covered heads out of respect and in contrast to the society in which they lived. In this way, you will begin to see principles that can be applied even when specific commands might be culturally driven.
- Fifth, seek immediate application of the command or principle that you uncover. I assume if a command jumps out at me in Scripture that God has a place for me to apply that passage. Often I ask Him to give me the opportunity that day; other times an event occurs and the passage jumps to mind, and I know I have the opportunity to obey or disobey. Obeying lifts up God's Word; disobedience flings it to the ground.
- Finally, believe God. When the command is hard ("leave everything and follow me" comes to mind!) - it's even more important to press in to find "mercy and grace to help in time of need" (Heb. 4:16-17). It's at those times that we are most tempted to rationalize throwing truth to the ground and pick up our own understanding instead. But when God's word is clear and the only barrier is what makes sense to us, we need to STOP - surround ourselves with believers - and remind ourselves of Solomon's wisdom: